I love poetry, especially poetry that is readable and accessible to the common person of today. I consider myself a common person. My favorite poets are those who write in language I can understand and on themes which I can relate to. Add in humor as a bonus for said poems and who do you get as their author, why Billy Collins, of course.
Every single one of the poems Billy read during his A Night With... program were humorous, at least in the beginning, or on the surface. All of them made me think.
Prior to the evening event I quickly read his small volume of poetry called Ballistics, which I checked out of my library. Then I turned my attention to another volume which I wasn't able to finish before hearing the poet himself. This volume, which I have since finished, is called Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. As I read it I was struck by a few poems which related to education and to books or reading. I try to find connections with poetry and I was instantly tied to his.
In the poem simply entitled "Books", I found an instant connection to these words,
From the heart of this dark, evacuated campus
I can hear the library humming in the night,
a choir of authors murmuring inside their books...I often use the phrase that books are calling my name. This can be a very disquieting experience since I am a librarian and I hang out with books every day. Sometimes it seems like the books are not only calling but screaming at me to read them. Further in the poem we learn that the poem is really about a reader's experiences with books, not just libraries.
I picture a figure in the act of reading,
shoes on a desk, head tilted in the wind of a book...
I think I know what "the wind of a book" means...that experience of being blown over or blown away by the book or the story (or a poem.) The next stanza is one which brings happy memories to mind,
I hear the voice of my mother reading to me...
My mother used to read to us when the power went off during electrical storms. She would read Mark Twain short stories aloud. Even today when others jump and cower during a lightning storm, I always feel comforted thinking back to those times around the dinner table with Mark Twain stories and my mother.
The first line of another Collins poem, "The Lesson," makes me laugh.
In the morning when I found History
snoring heavily on the couch...
Ha, ha! I have felt that way about certain classes and subjects in school. I'm not sure who was sleepier, me or the subject. When I was a classroom teacher I am sure some of my students would have been able to relate to this poem, just insert the word Health for History. I'm guessing Collins, a college professor, had the same experience with his students occasionally.
I'm old enough to remember the old Dick and Jane beginning readers which were used in schools for many years. Collins is showing his age, too, in his poem, "First Reader". My favorite line relates to what I remember about these early readers: the kids were always outside having fun. Their lives did not seem like mine, though I must admit that I am sure there were more Saturdays every week when I was a child compared to now.
It was always Saturday and he and she
were always pointing at something and shouting, "Look!"
And while I am being all nostalgic, the poem "Snow Day" is one all school children and teachers can appreciate. "Today we woke up to a revolution of snow." We stumble to the radio or TV to learn is our school, like "the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed." Yippee. An unplanned day off to play "all darting, and climbing and sliding." Billy Collins notices the ordinary moments in life and captures them on paper for us to read and remember.
Lastly, Billy takes a nod to heavy books in the poem "Tomes." Sometimes, he muses that a thin book will not do to make things just right.
...but what I prefer on days like these
is to get up from the couch,
pull down The History of the World,
and hold in my hands a book
containing almost everything...
a book like this always has a way
of soothing the nerves,
quieting the riotous surf of information
that foams around my waist...
Anyone who says they don't like poetry probably hasn't read any Billy Collins. Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems is an excellent place to start.